World champ Rickie Smith to compete at the Rock

Reigning NHRA Pro Mod champ will vie with the PDRA’s best

ROCKINGHAM — As if repeating as the Pro Nitrous champion at this week’s second annual PDRA “Roar at the Rock” Spring Nationals wasn’t tough enough for Pittsboro’s Jason Harris, it got a little more so Thursday with confirmation of the entry of two-time and reigning NHRA Pro Modified Champion Rickie Smith.

The most decorated drag racer in Carolina history with two NHRA and five IHRA world championships in Pro Modified and Pro Stock plus two more at the sportsman level, Smith will send his IDG-backed, nitrous-boosted 1969 Chevy Camaro into a field that includes the 35-year-old Harris, current point leader Tommy Franklin of Fredericksburg, Va., 2013 ADRL champion Steve “Stevie Fast” Jackson of Evans, Ga., and veteran Chris Rini of Carmel, N.Y.

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

For Smith, it’s like coming home.  The native of King, N.C., celebrated his first Rockingham victory in the spring of 1977 when he was racing in the IHRA’s Super Modified class.  He’s been winning ever since although he has yet to prevail in a PDRA event.

A Carolina racing Hall of Fame member and a legend among Mountain Motor aficionados, Smith has spent most of the last several seasons in the NHRA Pro Mod series.  He made history in 2013 when he won the NHRA title the same year that his son, Matt, won the championship in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Then, after briefly toying with the idea of retirement in both 2013 and 2014, Smith opted to stay in the game – at least for as long as his current sponsor wants.

A former high school football standout and wrestler, Smith doesn’t apologize for his reputation as being something of a gamesman, especially at the starting line.  However, he says he had to develop that game because of those against whom he was racing at the time, notably fellow Carolinian Ronnie Sox and Warren Johnson.

“There’s more to racing than just going up there and letting the clutch out,” he explained to Susan Wade of Dragzine.  “You got to have some excitement in it. You’ve got to have some controversy in it.  It ain’t got to be all bad, but if everybody’s lovey-dovey and there’s no drama involved, I don’t see why people would want to watch it very much.”

“The first year I went into Pro Stock, we could run pretty fast (but) I was getting kind of wore out,” Smith said.  “They knew how to play it.  I had run Super Modified and won two championships but when I went into the pros, it was a little bit meaner crowd up there.

“Either I had to get mean or get out,” he said.  “I figured with my background of high-school football and everything else, I wasn’t about to lay down. So I just got mean with ‘em.”

Thus was born “Tricky Rickie” Smith who, at age 61, still is considered one of the best starting line drivers in the sport.

Despite his reputation, Smith never has taken success for granted.  He knows how much work it requires and he admits that he is kind of surprised himself that he still is willing to make the necessary physical and emotional commitment every year.

“The last race you win could be your last one,” he said. “It’s that tough.  Things have got to line up for you on Sunday. It seems like out of the four rounds, you’ve got to get a lucky round. There’s a lot of good-running cars out there that hardly ever win a race.”

And then there are those, like Smith’s, that seem to win them all.

In addition to Pro Nitrous, Spring Nationals champions will be crowned in Pro Extreme, Pro Booster, Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Pro Outlaw and two Jr. Dragster categories.

Racing begins Friday with two qualifying sessions.  Two more sessions on Saturdaywill set the fields for first round eliminations at 6 p.m. Saturday.  Eliminations will resume at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $20 per day with a downloadable $5 off coupon.  Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by a ticketed adult and parking is free in Rockingham’s main lot although limited preferred parking is available inside the track for $40 per vehicle per day.

Filed in: Outdoors, Sports

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